Outreach aims to curb outbreaks of COVID with support network
Volunteers focus on creating security, safety in areas of higher transmission
Officials say they're encouraged by the number of residents in northeast Calgary accessing bolstered COVID-19 supports but say it's “too soon to tell” whether emergency aid is reducing transmission of the deadly virus.
The UCP government unveiled new outreach programs in mid-december for 11 communities in Calgary and Edmonton dealing with high rates of COVID-19 infections, including upper and lower northeast Calgary.
The area represents about 34 per cent of total infections and active cases in the city as of Monday.
Anila Lee Yuen, CEO of Centre for Newcomers, said local agencies that partnered with the province have been working tirelessly to provide support and interventions to limit the spread of COVID-19.
“Access to information is the No. 1 piece. Then it's helping people with all of the other things that are going to potentially prevent them from isolating, which is `how am I going to feed my family? How am I going to pay my rent so my kids aren't on the street,' ” said Lee Yuen.
“If you don't have those first three basic things — accurate access to plain language information and then food and income security — then it's really difficult for anybody to be able to adhere to COVID-19 safety standards.”
Premier Jason Kenney said there are unique barriers in these communities when compared to the general population, such as employment in public-facing and higher-risk jobs, higher-density living arrangements and large newcomer populations that face English language barriers.
Lee Yuen said 17 non-profits in Calgary are offering support for northeast residents, ranging from culturally appropriate food hampers and COVID-19 information in multiple languages, to mental-health and employment support.
Following the government announcement on Dec. 15, volunteers went to work to create hampers filled with hand sanitizer, masks and flyers in multiple languages, said Community and Social Services Minister Rajan Sawhney. They were given to residents within two days.
Through the holidays, community organizers packed boxes for vulnerable northeast residents, including those isolating or with family isolating away from home, with culturally appropriate food and necessities such as diapers.
Lee Yuen said they served about 1,000 residents over a 10-day period. Meanwhile, many residents sought support through the tollfree aid line — at 1-833-217-6614 — where they were referred to appropriate agencies to help with things such as translation, transportation and self-isolation hotels.
“I'm exhausted like everyone else is … but it really feels like a huge burden has been lifted when you're not having to do everything by yourself, when there are so many other capable, intelligent, well-put-together organizations that are willing to work with you without competition,” she said.
Sawhney said all of these services help break the chain of transmission because people can isolate at home or in self-isolation hotels without worrying about food or income security, for example.
“We're going in the right direction,” she said, but “in terms of what the impact is going to be on numbers, it is going to be hard to isolate these supports from the new public health measures.”
There is also concern that Alberta could see a similar increase in cases related to Christmas gatherings as was seen following Thanksgiving and Halloween. Sawhney said it will be at least two weeks until it is known how enhanced COVID-19 measures affect new cases and transmission in northeast Calgary.
The province did not provide updated numbers on self-isolation hotel admissions by publication.
However, Sawhney said there was less demand than expected in December, which she attributes to people staying at home over the holidays.
Only those who have completed self-isolation in dedicated hotels are eligible for financial aid through the province, meaning only a few, if any, have been able to apply so far. The province was unable to provide numbers.
Sawhney said the government could have done better in communicating what supports were available to residents during the pandemic before announcing a round of new outreach programs this month, but “the value of looking in the rear-view mirror is to understand what you can do better as you move forward.”
She said the province will determine if additional supports are required if COVID-19 spread remains high in the province's hardest-hit communities in the weeks to come.